October 05, 2003

Stupid Conservative Myth #7

Here's stupidity #7 from idiot conservatives:

Liberals have to be against capital punishment, but support abortion on demand.

To be technical, I'm a liberal, and I support capital punishment. I also oppose abortion under many different circumstances, but I'm not 100% sure where I would draw the line. Polls showing support of the death penalty in the United States show that there are plenty of liberals who support it, which is why you see so few Democratic politicians running on an anti-capital punishment platform. I'm not sure who would support "abortion on demand". What is that, anyway? So much for the myth.

The philosophical reasoning against capital punishment is pretty solid in theory. Having the state formally execute someone makes everyone a party to a killing, no matter how richly deserved. There are many people who want no part of that responsibility, and it is ethically questionable to force them to participate. The big problem with the death penalty is the discriminatory aspect. Throughout history, minorities have been far more likely to be put to death than whites, way out of proportion with the actual murder rates for each group.

For me, that's not an ender. I do think the death penalty needs to be fixed immediately, before any more executions take place. Some rules need to be put in place to prevent discrimination in trials, perhaps by putting the life/death decision in the hands of a judge rather than a jury or by increasing the power of appeals courts, making it easier for them to reverse a jury-declared death penalty unless the case is rock solid. Some of these fixes are simple. I mean, there was a famous case in Texas where a guy was sent to death row after his lawyer repeatedly fell asleep during trials. So rules of basic judicial competence and fair trials are the first obvious fix.

I couldn't say put an end to the death penalty in good conscience. The thing is, if anyone ever seriously hurt or killed a member of my family, there is no doubt in my mind that I would not rest until they were dead. I would do the killing myself if necessary, even risking jail time or what have you. If there were a circumstance where I couldn't seek out that vengeance (like if I got hurt or killed at the same time), I would without question want the perpetrator to die. That probably sounds pretty savage and horrible, but it's also brutally honest. And if that's what I would want, I wouldn't want to deny some other person the same chance to ensure that a criminal pays the ultimate price. So I would support fixing the death penalty, but I wouldn't want to end it.

As for abortion. As a guy, this is an easier issue and less personal than for women. No one would ever want to have an abortion, I'm sure. It's a horrible, horrible thing. If Michelle and I were to get pregnant again by accident, I sincerely doubt we would resort to an abortion. Another child would be a burden but also a blessing, and I think we would just make it work.

I do recognize that sometimes abortion should be a choice that a woman is allowed to make. Certainly in cases of rape or incest. Should it always be allowed in the first trimester? What about kids under 18 making that choice? When should a fetus have a right to life? The moment of conception? It is a philosophically impossible question to answer. I honestly don't pretend to know the right answers. I can only speak for myself, and by that principle, I doubt a one-size-fits-all abortion law will ever really work.

Posted by Observer at October 5, 2003 08:35 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

One problem with both abortion laws and death penalty cases is, as usual, money. If a murderer can afford HUGE defense costs and gets off on a technicality or slick moves by their high-paid counsel, then they get away with murder. (OJ, anyone? I still think the guy did it.) And if the Fed made abortion illegal, fat-cat parents would send their kids to another country to have the procedure done (like they used to do before abortion was made legal) while poorer girls and women would resort to back-alley practitioners or other life-threatening means.

For me, abortion is not so much a legal issue as it is a moral issue. I would like to see society fight abortion by teaching young people that sex is not a plaything for them - emphasizing the role of sex in a commited, loving, trusting, intimate relationship between two consenting adults. Sex would be so much more respected if it was encountered in this way rather than the all-too-often unprepared, back-seat, unsatisfying way that it is with most kids who experiment early. And it's all about adults taking the time to responsibly educate kids.

So far, all we seem to do (especially in public schools) is teach plumbing. Parents often do a pretty bad job of the sex talk, doing the whole "lay down the law" thing rather than talking about sex as the gift to a commited relationship that it is. And I could go on and on about the role of self-esteem and sexuality, especially in females. Girls who "do it" early are usually those who suffer from self-esteem issues.

So anyway, that's my 2 bucks worth.

Posted by: Perkusi on October 5, 2003 12:11 PM

I'd like to think moving the decision from jury to judge would make a difference, but it's still in the hands of a human, so they'll still be a very large chance of discrimination. Of course, a good judge could understand his own self and put aside any biases and look at the facts (just the facts, ma'am) but still ...

Posted by: Polerand on October 5, 2003 01:36 PM

Abortion is an economic decision. Women choose to abort when they believe they cannot afford to take care of the child, whether they give that explanation directly or indirectly. (An example of an indirect explanation would be, "The baby's father isn't planning to help out," or, "if I don't finish school before I have kids I'll never have a decent job," or, "I can't take a maternity leave until I make partner/get tenure.")

The cost and work involved in raising children, which are seen by society as an individual luxury item suitable only for those who can afford them, also induces women to postpone childbearing until past their bodies' natural limits. This isn't just an issue for high-school dropouts and drug addicts.

I'm still waiting for anti-abortion legislation that restores welfare so that women can afford to have their babies.

By the way, my favorite recipe: 15 drops blue cohosh, 15 drops black cohosh, and 15 drops pennyroyal (all tinctures in alcohol, not teas or capsules), 5 times a day until bleeding begins. Best used as soon as you suspect pregnancy.

Posted by: Shamhat on October 5, 2003 03:07 PM

I agree with your reading on Capital Punishment Observer. I am grateful to be living in a state where we have a hold on executions right now to try to study and fix the discrimination in it's use. Our new republican governor is trying to "unfreeze" executions, but has so far been unsuccessful.

I am also very pro-choice. While I do not think I would be inclined to have one myself, I belive that it is not government's decision.

Posted by: Bav on October 6, 2003 01:33 PM

"Nobody's right if everybody's wrong."

I've always had problems with this issue (the abortion part) for a number of reasons. First, I disagree with condemning what is or could become (depending on your personal beliefs) a human life where the mother should have been responsible in the first place. Responsibility doesn't include morning-after (or worse, five-month-after) remedies.

Further, the argument that this is an issue of personal choice is ludicrous. Yes, the mother is involved in the choice, but by the end of the second trimester (if not lots earlier, again depending on your interpretation) she is not the only one involved in the choice. If you have a problem with this view-point, explain to me what stance you take if you handcuff two people together? Aren't both of them inextricably involved in their choices now?

At the same time, I have problems with the conservative attitude that since you (the mother) were irresponsible I am now going to condemn you (something I can grudgingly accept) *and* the child (you remember, the one that they're nominally so worried about?) to a miserable, unhappy, abused or poverty-level existence. This certainly isn't compassionate and I'd say not very wise either for a number of reasons.

Another patent problem with the conservative cookie-cutter "all abortion is wrong" stance that always bugs me is the claim that any abortion is murder and the child deserves life. So what about the mother whose life is threatened by her pregnancy?

In short, nothing about this issue (or in my opinion gun control which I am sure is coming up on the list) is black and white so until both sides get over their black-and-white approach and this stupid, selfish belief that any step toward the middle puts them on the "slippery slope" we're doomed failure on these issues.

One of the reasons I respect Mr. Observer is that he is usually very careful about examining his beliefs and he recognizes that black-and-white rarely works.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on October 6, 2003 02:36 PM

The very fact that it (abortion) isn't black and white is exactly the reason that the state should stay out of the decision.

RE: mothers being irresponsible to get pregnant

Clearly you recognize that we can't apply this as a litmus but forgive me if I comment on it for a moment. What does "responsible" mean? Using birth control? Not having sex? Who is going to decide and how are we going to enforce the results of that decision?

I was raised catholic. The first demonstration I was ever in was in '73 when the archdiosese had the catholic school kids bussed to the State capital to march against Roe v. Wade. Because of the early indoctrination of my school and parish, I doubt I could ever have an abortion and rest easy after the fact. Its a grim decision, one I've fortunately never had to make. The state, however, is less equipped than I to make that choice.

I find it terribly ironic that many conservatives support forcing a woman to bear a child to term and then offer no support for her once she's done so (while supporting the death penalty at the same time.) In fact, cultural history here shows a rather punitive attitude for single unwed mothers.

Finally ,I think Perkusi's comments about education are spot on. That, coupled with keeping the state out of the abortion and reproductive rights decision is the best solution. But I also think that public health information should be taught as well... and that means information about safe sex and birth control.

Posted by: JustMary on October 6, 2003 04:23 PM

I understand exactly where you are coming from, Mary. That's why I posted as I did. Please don't take my post in the wrong light... My politics actually agree very closely with those of our host. I simply point out (in the hopes that someone like Doc might understand the principle) that the reason Mr. Observer is tearing the list apart as effectively as he has is the black-and-white nature of the list of "Conservative Myths".

Actually, I very often wonder how a church that can claim to be compassionate can condemn women to death, social ostracism, family ostracism, a constant, daily reminder of rape or other very tangible penalties without ever offering any support in the form of education or even open discussion (at least no church I was ever part of).

The counter-argument (and the reason I don't think that this is as easy as saying keep the state out of it) is that if the state condones it then again, it is being done in my name. I think that there are lots of situations in which abortion should be kept legal but I don't think that one of those situations is an 18-year-old girl from a wealthy family who doesn't want to be embarassed and chooses to kill something that is inconvenient.

Without naming the names that I'm sure Mr. Observer would, think about the people who claim today to be shining examples of morality; men (and women) who seem to be able to justify any action if it suits their ends (I haven't seen such a clear example of "the ends justifies the means" since, oh, any other presidential administration in my conscious memory). I don't trust all of humanity (and in some cases not even the majority of humanity) to make compassionate, reasoned choices and as such I am willing to hear arguments for laws that bear on abortion (in essence trying to legislate common sense). Problem is that I have yet to hear anyone propose one that is not horribly skewed one way or the other (all-for or all-against and hence not common sense) and I rarely hear anyone who can admit that there are examples that could be used against their own arguments and then address those examples in any meaningful way.

In contrast, take Mr. Observer's comments about capital punishment. He manages to present both arguments and state his position without saying that the other side is a bunch of complete loons for feeling as they do. His point is that he knows himself (and that he would impose capital punishment in defense or retribution for his family) and that he understands the arguments against capital punishment, both in the long term and as currently implemented, and he has to make a choice which is to say that today the system is broken but it needs not to be done away with in fairness to victims and their families. Somehow, that doesn't fit well into a sound-bite, however, so don't ever expect to hear such reasoned arguments from a politician regardless of their true feelings.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on October 6, 2003 05:18 PM

I don't think it's appropriate to describe every woman seeking an abortion as irresponsible.

Currently in the US, every woman over 35 (and some under that age) will be offered amniocentesis, with the assumption that if the baby has a chromosomal abnormality she will abort.

When the test is "positive," the woman, now 16-18 weeks pregnant, is referred to an abortion clinic. The OB/GYN who did all of her prenatal care up to that point, and did the amnio, won't have anything to do with the second trimester abortion. The House doesn't even want to give the mother the choice of intact dilation and extraction, which has a lower risk of damaging her uterus during the removal process. (The alternative to "partial birth abortion" is crushing the baby's skull to pieces before removing it through the cervix, obviously a much more pleasant procedure for everyone involved.)

I recall a woman who was diagnosed (at about 7 months) by the U. of Miami Medical Center with conjoined twins, two heads and one torso. After doing plenty of CT's (no problem with irradiating a baby that won't survive anyway) to get some nice 3-D images, and parading every resident in the place through to practice their sonogram reading, they asked a local feminist organization to pay for her flight to Denver--the only place that would do an abortion that late. It was my understanding that it was done by Cesarean section anyway, because they couldn't get the heads out. Those doctors cut open one out of every four women who present themselves for hospital birth, but they couldn't manage to take care of her because it was an abortion and they just don't do those.

Not all late abortions are of diagnosed Down's babies or babies with deformities incompatible with life, but access to abortion isn't an issue that only affects poor teenagers.

Posted by: Shamhat on October 6, 2003 08:01 PM

Great post, Shamhat. It astounds me that the House feels qualified to comment on this kind of medical decision. I wasn't aware of the outcome and risks to the woman if the procedure wasn't used. Thank you.

I respect your posts, Seattle Observer.. I hope I didn't give the impression that I don't. I also respect your politics as well as the politics of the host. My comments about the death penalty weren't about that per se, as much as the hypocrisy of a lot of "pro-lifers" who seem to be just fine with "post-natal" killing -- the death penalty. It really defeats the whole "sanctity of life" argument. I wasn't saying that either you or the host held that position. Sorry if I gave the wrong impression.

Like you, I find the content on this website compelling because of the thoughtful posts of the host as well as many of the participants here. When I have to go back to Minnesota to visit my frothing-at-the-mouth conservative brother and his family, I know I'll be better armed because of the writings of Observer.

The differences between you and I seem to be that you'd rather restrict access to prevent what you see as irresponsible choices and harm, and I'd rather open up access to prevent harm. That's how I'm reading your comments, anyway. We're just talking though, and I'm not raging at the screen here thinking you're some kind of repressive monster.

But to my argument, I don't think the state can make or create a laundry list of "good" and "bad" reasons to have an abortion. Its simply too complex an issue and the state doesn't take any responsibility for the outcome of that decision. So that really leaves it up to the woman, in my mind.

The privacy issue also resonates for me. It's just not the state's business.

The issue of parental consent is a thorny one, for me. I know many parents believe that since this is a medical situation, they have a legal right to know what their minor child is up to. I'd be more comfortable with it, if it wasn't part and parcel of the conservative agenda to outlaw choice. Given judicial outs, I might be ok with it. Parental consent is, after all, consistant with the legal status of minor children. The problem with it, is who's appointing the judiciary?

24 hour waiting periods I find to be simply insulting. Really. And spousal notification is simply no business of the State's.

But its almost moot, anyway. Since abortion clinics started being bombed, doctors and practicioners murdered, many states don't even have a provider. As Shamhat noted, access to abortions deemed medically necessary is now severely curtailed as well.

To reiterate, however, I mean no disrespect in disagreeing with your position. If you read it in what I say, call me on it. I appreciate the chance to clarify.

Posted by: JustMary on October 6, 2003 10:01 PM

No offense taken at all, Mary. I just wanted to make sure that I was not coming off in the wrong light. I think that you and I agree on the facts of the argument and simply weight some of the particulars a bit differently.

I hope that Shamhat doesn't really believe that I think any woman who is pregnant was irresponsible. Like I said, I strongly support keeping abortion legal in some cases (I think that women should always be able to get abortion in cases where the baby is a threat to their own safety or in cases where the baby is inherently unhealthy such as the conjoined twins, which were both unhealthy and a threat to the mother). I also think that there are cases where abortion should not be a legal way for a woman (or more often a girl) to calously decide that the pregnancy is inconvenient and needs to be terminated (something that is inherently hard if not downright impossible to define, I know).

Even between those two statement that leaves a *lot* of gray area. In addition, having made those statements, I recognize that they are nowhere near definitions that could be built into legislation so I can't even present a solution that might work. They are simply intended to show my frustration with the logic that leads to all-or-nothing legislation that is so common in today's debate on this subject.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on October 7, 2003 02:24 PM